Communications News: Smoking exemptions in England 'licence tokill'

A group of five charities, led by Action on Smoking Health (Ash), have invited Scottish Executive First Minister Jack McConnell to speak in favour of a full public smoking ban at a meeting of three cross-party parliamentary groups in Westminster next Wednesday.

The charities, which include the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, are unhappy with the exemptions on public smoking outlined in last week's government White Paper, Choosing Health.

The lobbying group will press about 20 MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary groups on heart disease, asthma, and smoking and health for the removal of exemptions that leave some workers at risk of passive smoking.

Proposals in the White Paper would lead to all enclosed public places, such as betting shops and workplaces, being smoke-free by the end of 2007.

Restaurants and pubs that serve prepared food would be smoke-free by the end of 2008. But those pubs that do not serve prepared food would be allowed to choose whether to allow smoking, as would some 20,000 private members clubs, such as golf clubs.

"We view these special licences as a license to kill," said Ruairi O'Connor, the British Heart Foundation's public affairs officer.

He said the lobbying group would fight the imbalance that protects all pub workers from passive smoking in Scotland and Ireland, but not in England.

Jack McConnell will be asked to outline the benefits of a full public smoking ban and to explain to MPs how the Scottish Executive arrived at its decision.

Ash said that the timescale for legislation is too long and will call on ministers to make a clear commitment to legislation in the first Queen's Speech after next year's expected General Election.

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